19 days on a vertical rock wall. Sleeping in a tent hanging on the side of a mountain. Pulling yourself up on ledges that are two credit cards thin. It was a climb that many said was completely impossible.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.15.10 AM(source)

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.16.06 AM(source)

And having failed to make it to the top of this climb five times previously, what kind of mindset would it take to accomplish something like this?

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 9.05.29 AM(source)

Meet Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson who were the first two climbers to “free climb” the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Their story has captured the hearts of a nation and even had President Barack Obama tweeting about it. Read more details of their incredible accomplishment here.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.53.13 AM(source)

I started to follow their journey for several reasons but mainly because of an INC interview I read in October of 2013. It was about Caldwell teaching a course with Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great) to a group of cadets at West Point.

At that time Caldwell had already made three unsuccessful attempts at climbing the Dawn Wall. Collins and Caldwell discussed the challenge that this climb offered when Collins asked, “Why do you keep throwing yourself at this? All it does is give you failure upon failure. Why go back?”

“Because success is not the primary point,” Caldwell said. “I go back because the climb is making me better. It is making me stronger. I am not failing; I am growing.”

As stated in the article, “Caldwell viewed failure as an essential part of his search for the outer reaches of his capabilities as a climber.” “To find your limit and experience the most growth, you have to go on a journey of cumulative failure,” Caldwell said.

“Even if I never succeed in free climbing the Dawn Wall, it will make me so much stronger, and so much better, that most other climbs will seem easy by comparison.”

I thought Caldwell’s response was incredibly inspiring, and it definitely re-shaped my thoughts around ‘failure.’  The word ‘failure’ itself carries a negative stigma for many people in our society and can also stifle the best innovation within our organizations. When we start thinking about new ideas or our goals the potential for failure can sometimes overwhelm us and might hold back from pursuing our biggest aspirations as a result.

I remember this exact feeling when I wanted to start my own ‘climb’ which meant shifting from a career in commercial real estate to leadership development. It definitely delayed my decision for awhile as I was afraid it wouldn’t work out or I would fail.

But what if we saw ‘failing’ on the pathway toward a compelling personal or professional vision as a growth opportunity? What if it was just a necessary step in the process. It might shift our thinking from why it won’t work out to the thought of what might be possible?

“For me, I love to dream big, and I love to find ways to be a bit of an explorer,” Caldwell said in a recent NY Times article. “These days it seems like everything is padded and comes with warning labels. This just lights a fire under me, and that’s a really exciting way to live.”

On December 27, 2014, Caldwell would start his sixth attempt at the Dawn Wall with Jorgeson. Many continued to believe this route was not possible. But I believe for Caldwell, success was not always about making it the top. It was more about following his passion and stretching the limits of his potential along the way. He accepted that failed Dawn Wall attempts were a natural part of the process and had been planning for this climb since 2007.

After 19 grueling days and 7 years of work, they made it to the top. What a moment.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.14.15 AM(source)

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 9.06.54 AM(source)

It was certainly time to celebrate with a toast. It had been more than just a ‘climb’ for Caldwell as he shared with National Geographic. “For me the Dawn Wall is the perfect venue for some of the most important values I want to show [my son] Fitz,” said Caldwell… “Optimism, perseverance, dedication and the importance of dreaming big.”

Tommy/Kevin, thanks for inspiring us with your dream. You remind us that when we stretch the perceived limits of our potential, it might just be true that anything is possible.

I think this is why so many people around the world could relate to their story. As Jorgeson explained for the NY Times, “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”

As you reflect today, what is something compelling that you want to go after? What is your Dawn Wall?

 

{ 0 comments }

Four key steps to take before you set your goals

January 8, 2015
Four key steps to take before you set your goals

How on earth will I ever achieve that goal with what’s already on my plate? I often find myself asking this question and my first solution is to figure out how I can “fit” something else in. However, this rarely seems to work well and often leads to more frustration and overwhelm. This made me […]

Read the full article →

How to create more time in your day

June 29, 2014
How to create more time in your day

So what gets in the way of spending time on things that raise our energy? A few months ago I wrote a post about embracing minimalism related to a recent move and what “stuff” I reduced in my life.  This is something I am also applying to other areas of my life.  It made me […]

Read the full article →

Leading, Lifting and Inspiring: A Message to Educators

May 18, 2014
Leading, Lifting and Inspiring: A Message to Educators

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week in Charlotte. Below is a message I wrote to all the teachers and principals I have worked with this past year. In high school, I was going through a pretty tough time and was thinking about dropping out of a special program I was in.  I will never forget […]

Read the full article →

Embracing Minimalism

March 30, 2014
Embracing Minimalism

I had stuff everywhere. Every shelf was full, closet was packed, furniture in every corner and I found six travel toothpastes. If there was a bit of white space on the wall, I put something up on it. In the course of a recent move, I realized I had way too much stuff and way […]

Read the full article →

Is exercise the access to greater performance?

November 3, 2013
Is exercise the access to greater performance?

A few months ago, I noticed I was starting to slack on some of my workouts. I had been running but not really putting the time in for some of my workouts at the gym. I would try to squeeze in 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there and always validated reasons to cut it […]

Read the full article →

What would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA Championships?

July 14, 2013
What would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA Championships?

What kind of mind state would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA National Championships?  I ran across this incredible quote from Anson Dorrance who is the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at UNC Chapel Hill and leads one of the most storied programs in NCAA athletics. “The challenge for you as an individual athlete […]

Read the full article →

What Exhilarating Hills Do We Pass Up?

June 2, 2013
What Exhilarating Hills Do We Pass Up?

“This is crazy, I can’t expect to do this…this isn’t for me.” I muttered this a couple weeks ago as I looked over another giant hill on my mountain bike and decided not to ride down it.  As I held down my brakes, my mind was convinced that there is a certain type of hill I am able to ride down and […]

Read the full article →

A Message Uniquely for Me

May 6, 2013
A Message Uniquely for Me

So I turned 32 this past week. And I received a card with the below message from my amazing co-workers. Here is what it said on the front: “We didn’t come here to fit in. We came here to be who we are. We didn’t come here to work. We came here to live our […]

Read the full article →